Writing is a solitary pursuit--the imagination guiding the hand moving the pen. I'm pretty old-school, valuing the work of good editors and the revisions process before letting my words go public. But life is short, right? And sometimes, just sometimes, we need to spout off.

About me...

My photo

A writer, mother, teacher, friend, I love books, blizzards and beaches, music from Hildegard von Bingen to the Beatles to Bonnie Raitt to The Brood; I love medieval churches, red wine, creme caramel, and roasted beets, and walking the woods and coastlines of home. 

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Under wraps

Say the subconscious is an ironstone edifice
with a few rocks loose, a terrifying iron
staircase inside that starts off circular, then climbs
calcified walls in an Escher-like zigzag.
this particular image is called.
In any case going up is easier than
descending, the most heart-stopping part
looking down. The foreshortened end of
the circular stairs
a dot.
So you put off leaving, and stay
at the summit as long as possible,
the view from the top quite splendid--the stuff
of dreams, if you have x-ray eyes
that can see to the very bottom of the
arm below. Bottles, golf balls, no doubt
a dead rowboat or two.
And all those dares, double dares, triple,
stories, kids' bragging, tales of scaling the flagpoles
at the very top,
just to show off...

Friday, December 3, 2010

Nothing great was ever done without much enduring.

So said St. Catherine of Siena. Enduring surely applies to most things to do with words, with writing, with waiting, with finding time for writing, with persevering through the present state of publishing, etc etc etc. Catherine also said Love, and speak the truth.
Words to boost us on these bleak rainy days that are so short on daylight. The greyness and bareness plotting, surely. All the natural world in wait. Snow, some snow would be good. A healthy bit of blizzarding (once school is over, marking finished, grades submitted, DONE) and that hunkering down that means winter. That hallowed season for word nerds: the best kind of hibernation, with no temptations of bee balm, hummingbirds, grass. Tho I'm not sure how Catherine would interpret this, kneeling in Tuscany six hundred years ago. Hang in, hang in. It's what we do, along with being honest, even when the truth hurts.

Thursday, November 11, 2010


Oh, that day again, that comes around faster than we can prepare ourselves. The heartbreak lurking just under the skin. Stoicism. Reserve. That is how my dad, a veteran of D-Day, would have it. No sentimentality, no glorifying war. My dad, dead three years now, almost to the day. He influenced me more than I can know; his influence on me grows more profound every day, every year. An example of trying to Do the Right Thing. Of not complaining, or wearing your heart on your sleeve too much--but by living, making a statement. That war is evil, that nobody wins, that people are people, and life is always, always, to be treasured--regardless of whose it is.

Two years ago I wandered along Juno Beach--the very strand on which my dad landed with his company, his brigade. My little dad, driving a tank. Blood shit and corruption, was how he quoted a buddy describing the war. Burnt flesh. The stench, the utter, utter waste of death.

The very worst thing for me, when he died, was knowing how his youth, his best years were spent on this. Knowing how he had been shortchanged. And knowing, now, how all who do battle--whether in Afghanistan, Iraq, Sudan, wherever--are being shortchanged, swindled of life.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Reduce, reuse and recycle...

"Trick or treat, smell my feet, give me something good to eat!"
So far at the door we've had a Viking, a computer, a banana, Bo Peep, a raisin, the Cat in the Hat, a boy-woman, a pint-size pirate, a pimp (maybe) and a vampire with an uncanny resemblance to Grampa Munster--to name a few, these among many other versions of Dracula and broods of witches. You gotta love it, this night of letting alter-egos out to play! Which takes me back to Halloweens when my kids were small (Zorro, bat, pirate, clown, Robin Hood, ghost, witch, crusader, hunchback...) and back, way back to trick or treating before Sobeys invented plastic bags. The days of big brown paper ones, useless in a steady Haligonian rain (when didn't it rain on Halloween?)when only the spoilt kids got pillow cases. Now those plasticized reusable "bags for life" make perfect totes for sugary loot: more expandable than plastic pumpkins, and just about guaranteed not to give out, let go, and spill a cache of hard-won candy in the middle of the mushy-leaved road. So long, soggy brown bags, bruised apples and teeth-gripping candy kisses! But maybe, just maybe, those days were more atmospheric?

Saturday, October 30, 2010

The day before All Hallows Eve....

Nothing like slow, careful looking; a walk through the woods. Pine needled path, splashes of orange oak; diehard green flares between naked branches. A fallen log is an armoured alligator, pieces of sky mirrored in black water. Blood red huckleberry; bare-boned granite. Everything puts in time before bed: November's coal-blue sleep.

Friday, October 29, 2010

The wisdom of poets

Whew! Ages since I've blogged, sidelined by teaching, marking and whatnot, as they say all over our province. The mind races with story ideas, bits and pieces crying for attention, assemblage, and above all, concise expression. It's like trying to digest an Italian wedding feast without gaining weight, turning to lead or generally being paralyzed with sheer caloric intake. How to start, how to mine all the Stuff for gold, or even bronze.
More and more, poetry appeals as the ideal form, this affirmed by Mary Oliver who says, "Poems are not words, after all, but fires for the cold, ropes let down to the lost, something as necessary as bread in the pockets of the hungry."
Maybe a certain fasting helps? The fasting enforced by lack of time, trusting in survival of the fittest ideas. In the meantime, while keeping lips zipped,let us observe Oliver's advice:
"Athletes take care of their bodies. Writers must similarly take care of the sensibility that houses the possibility of poems. There is nourishment in books, other art, history, philosophies--in holiness and in mirth."
Amen to that, sistah!

Monday, October 11, 2010


How is it, I ask, that Fifth Avenue and the Herring Cove Road share the planet? Just back from three days in New York, and as always, the shift between a magical city and the crisp, hair-shirted simplicity of home never ceases to amaze me. To be in Manhattan and then just a few hours later in the Spryfield Sobeys (not quite the sublime to the ridiculous, but close) causes a psychic earthquake. What you thought you knew (for instance: that NYC would be big and grimy and chaotic and the people rude and impersonal)turns out to be the opposite.
No better way on earth to learn about multi-hued possibility and perspectives than travel. Alas, I started relatively late.
The "problem" is that magical big cities are so highly, outrageously addictive--so much so that I'm already checking out Expedia. The world in all its glory: so much to see, so little time and disposable income. If I won a lottery I would become self-indulgently homeless: a walking, flying nomad--a global butterfly.
But but but...if that were the case I know what I'd miss: such things as potted geraniums, cut dahlias on the sill, the threat of frost, Thanksgiving turkey soup, my own bed, the reliably ordinary route of my morning walks, a favourite teacup....All these little worldly things that pin us down, locate and soothe us.
Visiting the sublime has that power: to illuminate the quotidian, to help us live in a kind of humility, the kind that equals gratitude.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

In Defence of Social Media...?

In the wake lately of so much cruelty and barbaric hate-full behaviour in the news lately, news of rape and voyeuristic bullying batted back and forth between the traditional media and Twitterdom & Facebookland, it's tempting to disconnect.
But is the taste for blood worse because of these new media platforms--or is it simply business as usual for those who like destroying people, whether or not the Internet breeds a crazy sense of impunity? Is the media still the message? (Lord love a duck, what would McLuhan think?)
In the oddest way, all this stuff has a way of forcing the creative person underground: that is, seizing whatever solitude and privacy is left in our world in order to do what we do. Focus on the ideas clamouring so quietly for attention amid the buzz of Out There. Surely it was easier to write a book three, four, five, twenty years ago than now. Even when the info is benign, it takes such herculean energy to tune it out and linger in one's imagination. Is it any wonder the world seems out of control?

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Over Easy Earl

A few tree branches down, a ton of leaves--maples the most susceptible, unused to a tropical pounding? The power was out for most of the day but came back on at dusk. A good day for reading, never mind the swirling churning wind & rain. A spider riding out the whole thing in a web by the front window, proof that spider silk is stronger, much stronger, than things like power lines.
Still, a piece of cake, this storm, relatively. The biggest hardship no internet. But once again, the ultra cabin fever of being locked inside your house inside your little neighbourhood with no access to, no clue at all about the fate of neighbourhoods mere blocks or a few kilometers away. The world reduced to a tiny, silent sphere. Never mind the food thawing in the freezer, the veggies going limp in the fridge. The thing that made me most ansty (next to the thrashing power line entangled in a tree) the feeling of being cut adrift, however real or artificial or delusional, deprived of connectivity.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Hurricane preparedness...

Okay, Earl. Wherever you are. This time we're waiting--unlike in '03 when your pal Juan hit. Subway train wind roaring through the backyard, trees crashing on my roof. Then, I said it would never happen--that is, until his eye was overhead. This time I'm prepared. Sort of. Which is to say I've got water freezing in my freezer, and a new flashlight, and battery-operated lanterns--with batteries! Laptop is fully charged, cupboard has canned beans. Cats are acting weird, but that's nothing new.
What is new is how you and your buds remind us how the rest of the world lives. How disasters can be just a breath away.
This year has been especially full--not with your kind as with your distant relatives.
Earthquakes. Floods.
Not that we can compare. Not as I cut a sampling of late summer flowers: dahlias, cone flowers, golden glow--and contemplate a leisurely drive down the coast to watch for breakers.
Not as I stockpile an extra meal's worth of chicken off the bbq, contemplate grunt from leftover blueberries in the presently operational fridge.
Who knows where you'll make landfall. Like some pissed off explorer sick of the bad food at sea, maybe ridden with scurvy for all we know.
Avast, ye swab!
The trees await you, uncomplaining.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

More vulgar data: Corrections, please!

Today's Globe & Mail has a fantastic interview with Jonathan Franzen, whose comments make recommended reading for anyone who wants to write worthwhile fiction. Besides his remarks on characters as the bedrock of a novel, he says: "Every good writer I know needs to go into some deep, quiet place to do work that is fully imagined. And what the Internet brings is lots of vulgar data. It is the antithesis of the imagination. It leaves nothing to the imagination."
As soon as school starts, time to unplug and delve. Easier said than done. Aimlessness gets addictive, and so do surfaces.
Franzen also talks about how good days are ones when he writes well, and bad days when he writes nothing.
Translation: The queasiness that comes with too much summer, days full of too much fun, all play and no work. Peace, true peace, found only through focus and the escape into discipline.
Okay, one last beach day, swimming and reading a trashy novel whose title I'll keep to myself. Counting down to September 1st.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

If just one person gets it....

Seems like after a book's initial buzz, the thing disappears down a deep black hole--until, sometimes years later, miracle of miracles, you find that a whole bunch of people you don't know have been reading it and living inside it and doing all the wild and wonderful things readers do with books that engage them. Never underestimate the currency of the imagination, or the fact that, no matter how subjective the whole process of "judging" books and authors is or can be, books do have legs. They never stop being like kids acquiring lives of their own. Some more strong-willed and muscular than others, but that's quite okay. So it goes with art in all its forms and permutations. Reminders of the mysterious mechanics at work without our knowing it; dumb luck or karmic? Regardless, the nudges that banish acedia.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

End of summer ennui?

"Acedia is like the bad fairy who is not invited to a royal christening, and in her indignation exacts a terrible revenge," writes U.S. poet Kathleen Norris in Acedia & me: A Marriage, Monks, and A Writer's Life. A wonderful book, and fit reading for these dying days of summer. Autumnal anxiety a useful, healthy antidote, I would say, to the alternative: the restless, unhappy numbness of not caring, not applying oneself, of drifting along without focus or hope. A state Norris considers to be deeper and darker than depression. A poisonous feeling that saps people (maybe especially writers?) of the urge and the energy to create, which is an urge that relies on optimism.
So we put our faith in fall? Back to school, nose to the grindstone, hamster on the wheel--the all of it, the quotidian stuff of daily routine that focuses some of us, anyway, away from the staying-stillness of lying on a beach, etcetera.
Norris also quotes St. Benedict, suggesting that it is important to remember at least once a day that we will die: the best antidote of all to acedia, that slippery slope from carefree to careless to despair. Writing such a tricky, odd balance between thinking we have forever to find the right words, sinking happily into its present, and eternally playing beat the clock.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Burnt toast, fallish nip

Started day with usual nay-bore-hood stroll. Dripping trees, shifty skies, more grey than blue. Smell of burnt toast in the seeping, creeping damp--a crack of the whip to get back into shape,
routine-wise. At the desk, lost in words for hours:
A good day,
pulling in scraps, tidbits jotted here and there
these past weeks.
Something about the slant of light now, the wind itself,
the restlessness of trees,
the countdown till school.
All a reminder to write/make hay
before the first frost of marking hits.
No better place to be, though, than here
(or there) on my dinosaur desktop,

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

All things are local

Small is grand. Also funny when magnified in ways that omit explanation. This morning, for instance, when, lacking anything much to post on FB, I mentioned watching seals in the Arm--which makes perfect sense if you live in Halifax. The comments that came back pointed out how weird that sounds to anyone not from here. Objectivity. The struggle, always, to put yourself in your reader's glasses, in his or her skin, his or her Hawaiian shirt or Bermuda shorts or whatever.
Seals in the Arm: some kind of tattoo? Like the huckleberry leaves that as kids we licked and fixed to our wrists, the yellowy imprints they left, utterly temporary. This in the day when serious ink was exclusively naval. Anchors, undulating babes, text: "Mom" inside an inky heart.
Ephemeral--the huckleberry ones. As short-lived as the sighting of a seal's snout, its wake stirring the deep, narrow channel at high tide. Mornings best, the water a green wind in the rockweed. Just like when we used to swim there. Dog-paddling.
A solitary seal doing its best to motor past a speedboat. Head just like a retriever's on the breakaway before sounding.
And gratitude from the land-bound for such small things: their presence swimming out there as if the water were pure. As if all might be so resilient

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Found art

Nothing like a trip--even a short one, to another neck of the nearby woods--to get you thinking outside the box. Best of all is a walk on the slightly wild and whacked side to see what people can do with a little imagination and the most ordinary of objects. A reminder for all of us who might think our current subject matter isn't hot, crazy, deep, dark, messy, gritty, graphic, gory and/or sexy enough, for instance, to draw readers.
The main thing is to keep in mind that creating is first of all about play. And summer is about vacations. Not to say that anyone's avoiding hard work. But there's a time and a season, right?
So. If someone can make objets d'art out of pop bottles, so we can spin engrossing tales about kids working in thrift shops and perverts shooting wedding pix. All right? Okay.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Dossiers etcetera etcetera

Every so often you have to stop everything and re-enter the real world. Case in point: have just spent most of the week putting together a teaching dossier for my employer. Like doing a grant proposal but with no $ in the offing. A good exercise in nailing down what the heck it is you do--as writing anything is generally a good way of reflecting back and making it all more concrete. But oh, how poisonous such methodical critical writing can be to invention and play. The brain cells rebel against this so much more readily these days, at this age/stage in life. Used to be I could turn on/turn off right brain/left brain on a dime. Not so much anymore. But, as with any onerous task, relief floods in when it's completed.
On a cheerier note the hummingbirds continue to make our backyard home. The other day I saw what must have been a baby no bigger than a queen bee, about the size of half my thumb, humming around the heliotrope. Truly the most amazing critter I think I've ever seen. Wings beating so fast the little thing got worn out and had to rest on the clothesline.
Small but mighty, almost invisible but there.
The creative spirit trying once again to anchor itself, those little talons hanging on to reality for dear life. Tick tick tick: how many days before September? Not enough. The rough first draft notes for a novel weighing on me. But, thank God they're there: a sketchy road map is better than none at all.

Sunday, July 25, 2010


Imagine if we could think/compose at the speed of a hummingbird's wingbeat. The ruby-throated jewel of an idea buzzing at the tip of a pen florid as bee balm. Sucking nectar petal by petal, then resting on the clothesline. Swinging. A greyish blur the cat sees first, no bigger than an insect. Eye candy.
Ferocious, tough as nails, full of wanderlust,
proof that small is best,

Monday, July 19, 2010

To write or not to write...

A beach day, the writing urge placated by bringing along a pen & paper & camera. Definitely in fodder-gathering, record mode. Not always easy to get off the writing bus and take time to stare at your toes in the sand. But summer's the best time to be in this phase, where a quick detour down a dead-end road can yield anything. Everything useful. The way we writers operate, like butchers and cooks in France. Charcuterie. Making use of the oddest parts of the animal. Every bit good for something. Economy. Resourcefulness. Openness. Vive l'ete.

Thursday, July 15, 2010


A steamy scorcher of a day that made me glad of yesterday's torrential rain collected in my new garbage pail/rain barrel.
Nothing like conservation, and coming prepared, a la that K'naan song. A rain barrel like a notebook full of story ideas, all you gotta do is dip your watering can and let it d/rip.
Of course there's nothing more beneficial than regular watering. Plants and writers such creatures of habit, and gloriously phototropic; one hopes anyway. Writing towards the sun, even during drought and spells of night blindness.
Today I'm thinking of Gail Sher, her book One Continuous Mistake, Four Noble Truths for Writers:
"If writing is your practice," she says, "the only way to fail is not to write."
And if you don't write, it's guaranteed that you won't get out those words that someone somewhere might actually need or want to hear. Our words falling on the stoniest ground sometimes, yet still sprouting responses.
Like the one I got to yesterday's blog from a plumber in Baltimore who must've felt compassion for those in the town I wrote about where plumbers (ones who come to your house) have either all migrated to Alberta or just don't like plumbing.
Little difference, when it comes down to it, between writers and plumbers: we ply our crafts. For a plumber the only way to fail is not to plumb.
And plumbers have fun with words, too. Like the local guy with these ones on his truck:
"Don't sleep with a drip, call me!"
Words to consider, when water runs amok.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

What do women want??

A visit to a certain town in (post) industrial Cape Breton never fails to yield something to set your teeth on edge...or to offer serious comic relief. Yes, in this part of the world where it can take three months to get your car fixed and even longer to get a plumber to make a house call, without fail every time I'm there the subject for a multi-layered piece of writing arises. The only trouble is getting down to committing the substance to paper. A story a minute, in this place--and the one presently gripping my imagination comes from the name of a new store located across from the grassed-over mine and the No Frills grocery store and the (lifeblood of the community) liquor commission.
What Women Want, it's called. Housed in a former butcher shop (I think but could be very wrong) or possibly a bake shop, it's a brick bunker of a building with thick, padlocked shutters and, on a cheery note, a row of pretty molded Adirondack chairs out front. Set between two dirt parking lots, the store is an upscale souvenir shop designed (I think) to appeal to the tourist trade, the bus tour crowd, perhaps, who frequent that other, more picturesque town 30 miles away, made famous by Alexander Graham Bell and his Silver Dart.
Cupid, draw back your bo-o-ow!
(But I digress--only slightly). Given its name, does the store specialize in, well, loooove? Things romantic?
The name connotes pampering, self-indulgence (the good kind that all of us are supposed to hanker for) and, well, in short, the stuff that girly dreams are made of.
Inside is a veritable cornucopia of potpourri, kitchen kitsch, semi-upscale knick-knacks and bath items. Some of the merch is rather appealing, but, being a Frenchy's shopper, I'm not a very reliable source/critic here.
But I love the name, and it drew me in--as I'm sure it has and will others.
So, what do women want?
As a couple of Facebook friends have pointed out, the shop-owner (presumably female) could use some more letters for her day-glo sign.
But on a more serious note, what do we want?
World peace. An easy winter. Paying work. Food for all. Clean air. Clean water. The bugs to stop eating our plants. More people to appreciate the power of the printed and electronic word, and of stories. Our stories. Good walking companions, dogs welcome. Non-picking cats. Silence, sometimes. Rain in rain-barrels. Raspberries on canes. Fresh sheets of paper. A new pen. A car or bike that only takes you where you want to go. A bike path with no hard hills. Lots of trees, flowers, bushes, and not a lot of grass. Good rocks. Red wine, preferably Italian. Goat cheese, and gorgonzola. Tomatoes. And right up there with the air and water, kindred women to talk to.
And this is just barely scratching the surface. My surface. How about yours?

Saturday, July 10, 2010


Call me a Luddite, but it's taken me this long to discover iTunes. That is, to get over my technophobia, and start using it. Oops, a dangerous new distraction from writing, not to mention a new potential addiction. It's all so clean and easy. No worries here about a gambling addiction. But online shopping addiction? Hmm. It's excellent that musicians have been able to turn the trend of downloading into some sort of profit. Just a matter of time before we writers can perhaps cash in in a similar way? If musicians of all genres can sell their work online, we should be able to sell pieces this way too? Whole collections, or individual stories, poems, essays. Except...we are comparing apples & oranges here. Chocolate and oat bran, perhaps.
But, what's to stop a writer who's gotten antsy waiting on the antiquated, grindingly slow industry from just going ahead and posting her work so that at least the readers who keep asking, Where's the Next Book? can get to read it. But but but, for the sticky issue of $$$$. We all wanna get paid for our hard, blood-sweat-and-tears labour, But we also want to reach those who appreciate--love?--our work.
Anyway, kudos in the meantime to the Writers Union of Canada and the coalition of writers and readers working now to ensure fair copyright legislation to protect us.
Okay, now off to listen to Rose Cousins's The Send Off, which is fantastic....

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Bonfire of the Vanities

The perfect beach day--scorching, but spent inside, reaching for le bon mot. A bouquet of les bons mots. Cooped up, because no experience feels completely lived until committed to paper. And by committing it to paper, excising the juicy bits for extra study under the microscope. Even on days probably better spent catching rays, getting ducked. This urge--but oh, such a luxury, a huge unspeakable luxury--to indulge it. Watching the word count creep up, almost to cut off point.
And what has the world to gain by this--what difference will it make, getting this stuff down?
A question not many writers can or should entertain too intently, perhaps.
But, what are we if not our reflections?

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Hot stuff (despite Maritime drizzle)

Couple of things for your attention, esp those who feel the need for a prod, better known as the magic wand of inspiration....

1) The Halifax Club Literary Luncheon
Thursday, July 22, 2010
12pm – 2pm

Sheree Fitch, Shandi Mitchell and Binnie Brennan

Sheree Fitch is a multi award-winning writer, speaker, and educator and the author of twenty-three books in a variety of genres. She has received the Vicky Metcalf Award for a body of work inspirational to Canadian children and two honorary doctorates for her contribution to Canadian literature and issues affecting women and children. Her latest work is the critically acclaimed Kiss The Joy As It Flies (2008).

Shandi Mitchell is Halifax-based author and filmmaker. Her debut novel Under This Unbroken Sky (2009) was published in Canada, the U.S and the U.K. and won the 2010 Commonwealth Writers Prize for Best First Book for Canada and the Caribbean. The narrative also picked up both the Thomas Head Raddall Atlantic Fiction award and John and Margaret Savage First Book Award at this year’s Atlantic Book Awards.

Binnie Brennan has had her work published in a number of literary journals, including The Wascana Review, Existere, and All Rights Reserved. In 2007 her children’s story A Spider’s Tale was adapted for stage in a collaboration of Symphony Nova Scotia and Dalhousie Theatre. Her novella, Harbour View, won the 2009 Ken Klonsky Novella Contest and was nominated for this year’s Atlantic Book Awards.

The Halifax Club is located at 1682 Hollis St in downtown Halifax.

Reservations can be made by calling 902.423.8460 or by email - reservations@halifaxclub.ns.ca

More information is available online at www.halifaxclub.ns.ca
or by contacting
Stephen Patrick Clare



Theme: Language Deadline: August 25th

Her Royal Majesty is a quarterly online publication devoted to publishing excellent new artwork. We are looking for visual and literary submissions for our ninth issue following the theme of language. The deadline is August 25th and the issue will be published in mid-September.

The magazine was founded in Halifax, Nova Scotia, in September 2008 and it has grown from a zine designed to serve the local community into an international literary arts magazine. Her Royal Majesty is a print magazine that is currently available for free online with handmade printed hardcopies available to order through the website: www.heroyalmajesty.ca

Thank you for circulating this call to submissions to your community.


Harriet Alida Lye Kyra Simone
Editor in Chief Assistant Editor

Under the Microscope

Hazy lazy days of summer--no beaching (yet) but room for writing, hankered for all year. Glorious, stymieing (sp?) freedom.
So easy to powerwalk, weedtrim-slash one's way through the jungle of ordinary, seeking the rare and rarefied flower,
when what's required is to stop and hover with hummingbird intensity, intent on the daily bloom.
Even just a tall green stem that lengthens, budless.
With patience and calm the colour presents itself.
Pretty funny, this juggling of perseverance with a (child's) delight in the greenness of green.
Too much brooding, too much ponderance
as lethal as cutworms.

Sunday, July 4, 2010


Have I told you how much I love the Allan Street Reading Series? A funner more jennerous venue for writers reading their work surely does not exist. Kudos to the curator, writer & editor Jenner-Brooke Berger for putting these monthly events together, and to her roommate for providing the baked goods. The ASRS is to writing what various & sundry basements and garages have been to Halifax's indie/alt music scene. It's fantastic to see the crossovers in this do-it-yourself culture--immensely talented people taking the bull by the horns and not waiting for others to do it for them. The rest of us older more "seasoned" writers can learn a lot from these younger emerging folks. If you want people to hear your work--if you want to hear your friends' work--don't wait for them to get invited to read at the library or in a bar or on the radio. Bake a bunch of nanaimo bars and open up your house or deck or apartment, invite everyone you know and tell them to bring a friend, and let the readings begin!
But if you're still feeling too timid or shy or just plain old and out of steam to DIY, the ASRS is as welcoming as can be. Its energy, its vibe is Ahhh-mazing.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

World's worst opening lines

CBC's website today names this year's winner of the annual Bulwer-Lytton Fiction contest, a celebration of the world's worst opening lines instituted by the author of the iconic It was a dark and stormy night...
The award-winners quoted are brilliantly bad, so bogged down with cliches and bodacious blunders that they must be intentional. I mean, there's regular bad writing and then there is soaringly bad writing of LOL calibre. Like this:

"She walked into my office wearing a body that would make a man write bad cheques, but in this paperless age you would first have to obtain her ABA Routing Transit Number and Account Number and then disable your own Overdraft Protection in order to do so.

Kudos for this to runner-up Steve Lynch of San Marcos, Calif. Maybe it's just me, but you gotta admit in these recessionary, post-G20, big-brother-esque days, his entry in the detective fiction category has a certain je ne sais quoi.

To read more badder than bads, visit: http://www.cbc.ca/arts/books/story/2010/06/29/bad-writing-contest.html#ixzz0sHlOV6En

And yet, doesn't it all dredge up Anne Lamott's sage advice about Shitty First Drafts: how you have to write crap in order to get to the good (or at least better) stuff.

So maybe we all should try this as an exercise in breaking the block or conquering the old "I'd rather clean the toilet than write" carrot-and-stick conundrum.

I'm willing to bet that starting a day's practice by coming up with just such a gem may prove that writing a genuinely decent or at least workable first line isn't nearly as excruciatingly hard as we set it up to be.
Just another of the hoops we set ablaze before making ourselves jump/crawl/squeeze through them. So, kill the flames, and think of it as a poop hoop, my apologies to Lamott. And for pete's sake, save your results--there's always next year.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Rainy Monday

A perfect writing day, rain on the roof...Also a perfect day for running away to the woods of Lunenburg County, far from the (tiny) crowds clamouring to see the Queen. Will take my notebook. Will take a leisurely trip to Frenchy's. Ant-block therapy. Breaking my own rules. A day to play hookey. Life, after all, is for living. Gathering fodder. Listening.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Royal Visits

Better to write than not to write, whether what you're saying is IT or not IT. The writing self, the subconscious occasionally such a fusty, cranky thing that it's probably best not to treat it like the entitled brat it can be sometimes. Don't indulge it by putting everything on hold, waiting for it to decide what you're doing is The Real Thing. So many ideas and impulses percolating beneath a crusty surface. You could thrash around forever just deciding what to write, and then beating yourself up over its questionable "worthiness."
Different ways of wrestling with the ego, maybe? Or of racing ahead of the wolves howling at us all to stop writing. (The woods are full of them.)
The practice of writing exactly that: a never-ending practice, even when some sessions feel like empty ritual. Showing up is important. So is trusting the cranky capricious little voice in spite of its ornery nature; trusting that basically it speaks/shouts/cries out of love, even when it acts like a princess.

Saturday, June 26, 2010


Had the great pleasure of hearing Buffy St. Marie perform last night on the Halifax Common, part of the Mik'maq Membertou powwow. Gorgeous full moon over the illuminated wigwams.
Sobering, very sobering, to be an onlooker, part of the dominant culture, another generation of white oppressors. Buffy's lyrics so full of toughness and forgiveness. What a way to use words, fighting war, hatred, and oppression, all in the name of peace and community.
An inspiration, a slap-upside-the-head re: our petty worries about publishers' quirks and discounted books. The power of words. A powerful reminder. Harking back to what Victoria Nelson, she of the Block book, says about speaking the unspeakable. Pray that it hits the page sooner rather than later.
Sharpen your pencils.

Friday, June 25, 2010


...can be golden, according to that block-buster Victoria Nelson. If it's for the right reasons: the psyche gathering fodder, steam.
She doesn't have any suggestions, however, considering silence in light of such things as Chapters' current Buy 3 get the 4th book free deal. Great for readers (though we should all be supporting our local indie bookstores!!) but very scary for writers of all genres.
Scarier still is the deep-discounting of books by such authors as Alice Munro, and works that have only been out a matter of months. A veritable jihad against all who live by the pen.
What's a girl to do but keep bashing away? Taking the odd breather in the sunshine before heading back to the keyboard for more.
I suppose in a way it's nothing new; we write into and against the void, we write in hope. As long as what we aim for is good, and is neither illegal nor immoral, to cop a phrase from a friend.
Why why why, tho, this apparent industry love-hatred for books, when everything in our culture would say (genteelly of course) Shut Up? I don't get it. But the only way to fight it is to keep plunking away.

Thursday, June 24, 2010


Sounds disgusting. Compulsive writing. Writing for the (frantic) sake of moving the pen--an ironic form of writer's block, according to Victoria Nelson's insightful book, On Writer's Block: A New Approach to Creativity.
For a year I avoided (ha!) opening this book, discovered quite fortuitously at Frenchy's. It's quite a wonderful uncovering and sympathetic analysis of the whys and wherefores of the hurdles and hoops we jump over & through.
Nelson quotes Malcolm Lowry's biographer, Douglas Day, as saying the urge to write copiously, compulsively, is in recognition of "the lethal attraction of silence" and done "in order not to die."
A bit extreme, Nelson says, and I might agree.
But she's also right, I think, in suggesting that compulsive writing "constitutes a defense...an armor against unknown terrors, rather than the constant unfolding expression of inner truth."
Maybe the inner truth is too big, too scary, to attempt to put into words?
Anyway. Food for thought, to be digested and passed accordingly.
I still say write, write, write and write some more, "if only" for the act of doing it. Otherwise, how will the good stuff in there ever come out?
A colleague who is a visual artist says, Even if nothing's happening in my art, it's important to show up at the studio regularly just in case something does.
Write on.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

On the merits of early rising....

Insomnia not so unwelcome when it's characters plotting, voices a sleepy murmur under real-time twitter of waking birds:
A walk in the park.
The sunrise sighting of a deer in the parking lot.
Ears twitching
so finely tuned before
its horsey bolt for the woods.
And mist--that too.
Bullfrogs snapping rubber
bands in the swamp;
lilies waiting.

Literary La-La-Land

Too occupied in the garden and at the desk to cyber-bop, but never too busy to take in a literary do. Last night, a wonderful presentation by a Californian author on Sylvia Beach's letters. Keri Walsh's book is just out, and a goldmine on all things Shakespeare & Company. Dream a little dream, if you've been lucky enough to visit the bookshop in Paris--not the original, but its namesake.
Walsh's presentation included some wonderful readings from Beach's letters to her "dear little mother" and benefactor, and to James Joyce, whose benefactor she became.
Imagine, a bookseller/publisher who championed authors whose work she loved, work that otherwise mightn't have seen the light of day. Work that was contraband for all kinds of (crazy) reasons.
A risktaker who loved literature and sucked up the rest.
Kudos to Walsh for fanning Beach's flame.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Row by row

The tedium of planting seed by seed. Scattering words into fallow ground. So much more fun to hit the garden centre: I'll take this, and this, and that--and one in each colour since I can't make up my mind.
So much easier to dig holes, slot in plants primed to bloom. Instant garden. Instant colour.
Something to be said for the grunt work.
The digging and turning of sod, hacking away invasive roots.
The more fully formed and slug-proof the plants starting out, the less grief, A Canadian fact.
As long as you leave room for the accidents, the accidental.
A clump of purple lupines that plant themselves, rioting against the irises for attention.
The happiest results those that startle us.

Friday, June 4, 2010


Do we write as a ferret-like means of laying down tracks, notations that we were here now? A kind of graffiti that is (or used to be) welcomed by the public--so long as it was filtered through the gentle, genteel middlemen of publishing?
Do we write to avoid mowing lawns, doing laundry, balancing check books, cleaning toilets?
Or do we write for the joy of it, the compulsion of getting down what burns/yearns to be written?
I would like to be a perpetual traveller, an escape artist. But mine is no gypsy soul.
A woman whom lawn mowers hate. Machines refuse to co-operate with.
But pens, ah, pens. The leisurely flow of ink for my eyes only.
Notebooks, desk drawers.
Debit receipts embroidered with scrawl.
The text-ure of one's quiet hand.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Too much info...

No deadlines and mayhem of ideas nattering for attention- their voices too far away, the echo of spring peepers from a bog many blocks away.
Earth to mars, do we have contact? While Google seduces, captivates but never quiets the clamour.
What a noisy world, a writer's brain.
Not enough words to paint in all the hues and shades, as time itself curls under a fog-bound rock.
Is it just me, or is it harder and harder these days to focus?

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

One crow sorrow?

Ever been followed, literally, by a bird? On this evening's stroll a crow picked me for a partner. Paced itself to swoop a little ahead, perching in the wires till I caught up, letting me pass only to swoop to the next nearby perch, all at eerily regular intervals. A perfectly straight line, following my path along a fairly busy road. Not so much as the crow flies but as the human ambles. Wings so close to my head I could feel their draft. After ten minutes or so it ditched me as unexpectedly as it had begun to tail me, flying back the way we'd come. Weird. A harbinger of what?

Friday, May 28, 2010

Writing through the noise

Best time last night at Company House listening to ensembles from NSCC performing. Scribbling furiously on notepad between sets. Something about the energy of a bar buzzing with musicians, about writing through ruckus that precedes music. A dark, happy jumble. Writing without knowing who and what may jump up and grab the mic. Coming away surprised, joyful and trusting that random solo parts will (someday) solder/soldier together, making chrome.
Jazz, world, poppy pop, latin & metal: melded together, rocking the House.
Patience, patience. Meanwhile, solitary words like ridiculous liner notes, for now. More patience. Daily, nightly scribbling wherever you may find yourself.
Opiate of discovery when all the parts hum, shred, soar.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

All Things New

Having a plan is the only way to write--that is, faking it until the plan plan emerges, and until it does, slotting in desk time the way you slot in breakfast and tooth-brushing. Focus. The divine discipline. LIke the virtues: even (especially?) if you lack them, pretending/behaving as though you do possess them does magically bring them in reach. Make them practice-able.
Italians make wine. Painters paint. Dogs bark. Writers write. Even when pushing the pen in circles.
Every day a new start. Winding down, winding up. Ready to pitch the winning ball, or a foul: the same thing at this new-love stage. The practice that weaves the web, and the tinkering later that makes it spider-safe and strong enough to capture readers.
The writer's willing suspension of disbelief.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Whining and Dining

"Italian cooking is the art of giving expression to the undisguised flavours of its ingredients," says cookbook guru Marcella Hazan. Certainly true of the pizza and tiramisu I feasted on during my short sojourn in Italy. And equally true of writing and living, I would say. It's all about authenticity.
Yet, more and more, given metafiction's posturing, authenticity is made out to be fiction's embarrassing relative. A hayseed halitosis-addled hick who flashes its author's worst Kodak moments at anyone keen enough to notice. (Wait in the car, you want to say. Or take a fast walk off a short pier before you totally wreck my reputation. I mean, it is just so uncool to be straightforward. To be fresh as a tomato. Or a mushroom.)
The trouble is, the hick, the second cousin twice removed, is a doppleganger. Worse, a mirror image. A tomato with a big fat grin: yours. Mine. Leaking its juices everywhere, staining pages with it. A gorgonzola of a tale, in fact, shouting to be plated.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Pitti Party

So long to the Pitti Palace and all the other marble temples we toured in Italy. I'm still dreaming about statues and columns--life as a baroque fever dream. Happy to be here in the land of stripped-down green where things admittedly grow at a much slower pace and the sun has a chilly northern slant. Even if our Mexican-grown tomatoes are bitter and genetically modified, and the cheese is woefully bland. There's a straightforwardness to our aesthetic which could translate well into stories. My favourite children's one, for e.g., by Richard Scarry (sp?)
"I am a bunny. My name is Nicholas. I live in a hollow tree."
Wouldn't you love to write a novel in similar style?
No need for literary trompe-l'oeil
The fact is, I'm baroqued out.
Enough, for now, to dig in the dirt and watch earthworms squiggle their pink escape. A marvel of undercover agency, busywork while things take root.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Buon Giorno

Just back from a two-week hiatus in Italy...if you can call dodging the volcanic cloud, the vagaries of the Italian transit system and the tangled jungle of a place that is Roma a hiatus...From what, you wonder. Ah, from the quiet, stripped down bliss of house and yard and ideas clamouring to be written down. I'm no gypsy, but a creature of habit. Journalling my way through a flood (literally) and various strandings in order to keep calm (or at least functional) and busy while lingering over lattes and cappuccinos. Hard life, eh? Roma especially a riot of traffic and sky-high weeds and ancient rubble everywhere. All Fellini had to do was remove his lens cap. A wild and crazy joy of a city, the contrast between here and there quite laughable. All good. Part of the bliss of travel is or should be the homecoming and looking forward to the return to reality.
Expect the unexpected, Be prepared to abandon all agendas to embrace the present, whether it is a Niagara Falls of scooters, acqueduct-drawn water, or the supremo, humbling silenze of a thousand well-laid plans thwarted. This is among the many wonderful lessons Italy taught me, in a whirlwind, life-changing fortnight. Grazie.

Friday, April 23, 2010

The gift of critters

"If you have men who will exclude any of God's creatures from the shelter of compassion and pity, you will have men who will deal likewise with their fellow men."

St. Francis of Assisi

Entering Day Three of doglessness. Silence except for cats' purring and birdsong.
What a large & loving community, that of bereaved pet owners.
Tis better to have loved hugely & intensely than to cruise along with lukewarm feelings.
All the things that animals teach us (especially dogs).
Non-judgement, unconditional love, spontaneous joy.
In breaking our hearts wide open they teach us compassion,
and the hereness of the here & now.
How sacred these bodily lives--theirs & ours.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010


Lost my dear dog last night; had to have him euthanized because of his advanced cancer.
My first dogless stroll today, our route of eleven years, was like walking with one leg,
or two instead of six.
All around the pond, one of everything:
One crow (sorrow)
One turtle on a rock.
One magnificent Great White Egret, a wizard perched on a boulder,
plumes wisping,
poised to catch a fish, or a minnow
in the murky brown,
the sky's flipside.
The edges of rocks submerged, like teeth.
One of each, a different size and shape
for every function.
A hard medicine, such singularity.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

DIY Culture

Vampires and Nickelback--the mainstream's enacting a Darwinian dialectic, I'd say. Survival of the fattest, to a point. The old institutional approach to books and music burying itself alive (gasping for those final asthmatic breaths) in its cannibalistic frenzy to feed consumers. Methinks the trend has overshot flavour-of-the-month; how about panic-attack-of-the-week?

How else to explain biosolids grown in biosolids passed off as art? Maybe all it will take is a little volcanic action--a cloud full of toxic grit, particles lethal enough to down a jet and collapse the world's airline industry. Some seismic, cataclysmic shake-down to change things up.

Writers, musicians of the world unite. Think if we all withheld what we make from the greedy who would brand everything into one coddled-pap piddling stream of beige. Think if we threw our c(l)ogs into the machinery and seized the mode of production; filled every corner, every cranny on earth with our stories, poems and songs.

What a performance that would be. What lava-blasting pyrotechnics, blanketing the bland with ash.

Saturday, April 17, 2010


Check out today's Globe and Mail, Books section, for a sadly hilarious satire--effective because it's so true--about how consumerism is eating the heart out of literary art.


It's enough to make you wanna live in a tent and eat berries and write yourself into the sunset, pencil in hand.

Maybe/probably it has always been like this, that the pursuit of ever-shrinking (??????) dollars drives what gets picked and what gets passed. Somehow, though, I think the (past) recession continues to give license to those whose knee-jerk response/first priority is covering their sorry arses and scrambling to make some/more money. No one wants to lose money, and nobody wants to go hungry.

BUT imagine the metric tonnes of literary works from the past that wouldn't have a hope today of ending up anywhere but in a landfill, if publishing had been dictated through the ages by dollar figures and sales projections (based on what, you have to wonder).

Under the current climate--so much more dog-eat-dog than when JK Rowling first entered the scene, lo, a decade ago--her initial 16 rejections (or whatever) might number in the 1600s now.

Oh ye of little faith.

Anyway, we'll rant and we'll roar like true word addicts. And take heart (sort of) that the idiocy sometimes somehow gets redeemed. For proof of this, here are just two fine examples:

Anne Frank's diary was rejected at least 13 times on the grounds that Frank lacked any 'special perceptions, feelings'.

Animal Farm by George Orwell was rejected by at least one sage publisher because ‘It is impossible to sell animal stories in the USA.’

Lust for Life by Irving Stone, rejected 16 times (‘a long, dull novel about an artist’ ) found a publisher and went on to sell about 25 million copies.

For a plethora of examples, go to


(to list just two of a plethora of links) and smile all the way back to your desk, my friends!

Friday, April 16, 2010

Rave, with apologies to Anne Lamott

A literary week here with wall to wall Atlantic Book Awards events. Good to see people celebrating the results & rewards of squirreling away for years at their desks.

It reminds you that there is a community, large & diverse as buttons in a Frenchy's jar: of people who spend their lives clutching pens, paper (oh please like old fashioned carbon paper, the kind that unwinds from typewriters) close enough that their hearts' impressions transfer.

So easy to feel like an oddball--a solo mismatched snap--when everything hollers: Why would you do that???

It's so hard, and some, yes, some, make it look fairy-easy. Forays into found attics and hardwood living rooms of prose; trips into the pure green tea of poems. The pressure cooker, the sourdough starter of lines. Fingernail scratchings of tender spots.

The do-we-have-lift-off lid-about-to-fly-sky-high voices.

Words wide enough to snuggle themselves around an eighteen-wheeler barreling through neon.
Shitty first drafts, shitty fifth sixth and seventh drafts tearing a strip off fiction that karate-chops and monster-trucks flavour-of-the-week over story--


Lullabies for babies, the sore-hearted, sorer-headed, rants for the smarting, kazoos for the farting
dogs named Walter barking
cat-eating cats in love with marking.
Earth is round, earth is flat,
Whether books are skinny or fat.

Let's fall in love again and again and again with words.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Beware bad advice

One of the true perks of teaching writing is getting to hear students' stories. A brilliant night of readings this evening at a former student's apartment. Four writers. A full house. A filmmaker filming them. Wonderful chitchat between acts.

A reminder, tho, not just of what a rare privilege it is to help nurture young talents, and what a gift, but what a responsibility.

Especially when they divulge bits of advice thrust on them by some instructors.

Advice suitable for framing, after you've wrung it out of your system--quickly.

Advice to be pulled out like a whoopie cushion.

Bad as it is, it's worth a laugh.

"Never write stories about kids," a certain unnamed prof advised a certain brilliant young writer who happened to be writing a brilliant novel about a kid. "Stories about kids don't work," said the prof, "because kids have no money, don't have sex, don't do drugs or drink." Likely there was something in there as well about kids being lazy bums who don't have jobs.

The student said, Um, what about Huckleberry Finn?

To which we might add Ellen Foster, Anne of Green Gables, Emily of New Moon, Harry Potter and the narrator of at least one Jonathan Safran Foer novel, to name a few that spring instantly to mind. Shout out the others you know!

May you find this advice as dangerously funny and misguided as I did.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

F for Absence

Falling offa wagon, failing to blog, forgoing fortitude, forgetting fun....
One of those weeks with other preoccupations, daily doodling on the bottom rung of priorities.
Blogging no different from yoga-ing, walking or running, I guess, or remembering to dust.
Sometimes we should promise ourselves to quit those chores that become onerous. Other times it's simply a matter of quietly picking up the leash and taking yourself for a walk, back towards the practice, the habit.
"Tomorrow is the first day of the rest of your life."
"If you love something set it free...."
"Never put off today what you can do tomorrow."
"I'll gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today."
You gotta love those cliches, wha'? Whether they come from Jonathan Livingston Seagull or Popeye & Wimpy...
Why is it, tho, when I contemplate cliches, they flare in my mind like fake copper plaques on drugstore shelves...1970s merch now known as "giftware."
Not always, tho. And you never know when or where you'll stumble across one that speaks, or squeaks, and then apologizes for itself. Cheese is as cheese does, but we snort when it bears a certain truth: a thought glimpsed like a tiny (sacred) cow high up on a dandelion-dotted hill across a wide meandering stream.
This week's best, tagging spotted on a bench:
No rest for the blessed
Long life for the wicked.

Write on.

Monday, April 5, 2010


Digging & hoeing. Easter Sunday in the garden. Weeding, thinning, transplanting, all in a burst of unprecedented sunshine. Warmth.
Tulips pushing buds, Lenten rose hellebores blooming on seed catalogue schedule.
Beds groomed, shoots nudged, nursed along--alas, to be chewed to the nub.
Quiet as fog in the night they come, focused as cats after birds.
Hoof prints in the finely-turned soil.
At daybreak not a tulip standing.
Salad for the wanton deer, graceful marauders.
Doe-eyed, bovine-jawed,
white-tailed flares at the edge of the lawn
into the trees,

Friday, April 2, 2010

Good Friday

Clouds hugging the horizon, a wary stripe of blue above: the layered sky. Greyness speckled with the upstart purple & yellow of crocuses. A tunnel of light. How it is here, now. A few days after the collision of protons in Geneva.
Physicists seeking the Higgs boson, 'the God particle' in their $9 billion experiment: the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) with its 17-mile-long underground tunnel.
Fears of black holes: the sun blotted out for good. Holes left in the sky by exploded stars, or something like that.
It would leave us in the dark, they worry. Speculation, conjecture? Nobody knows.
They hope to recreate the Big Bang moment.
But then some say the Higgs boson is thwarting everything, refusing to play along.
Thwarting matter, thwarting time, the seen and the unseen?
Let us place more faith in the sun.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The Hunk

Ever come across something you wrote so long ago you completely fuhgotallaboudit?
Sometimes buried gems pop from the rubble, from the formless matter of a ditched draft.
Today a nugget that made me laugh when it first jumped into my head, I know, and makes me smile six years later. A miniscule but telling detail. Funny thing that my character harbours such a treasure.
A grow-in-a-jar man called The Hunk. A man that starts off as a tiny shapeless nub of red plastic. Just add water and The Hunk sprouts arms, legs and a head. Like a human tadpole, sort of, and just as slimy if left too long.
A gem tossed my way once upon a time. Instantly recognizable as useful, if only to remind me now of my character's silly side.

Sunday, March 28, 2010


In the dusky cold, hiccupping Maritime excuse for spring (one step forward, ten steps back)lawns have gone pea-green again, flowerbeds splintery with frost. The most alive thing, save the withered crocuses, the elm outside the window. Bark as fissured as Methusela's skin. Elephantine trunk. Lichens, moss. Brittle, stalwart, stationary but for a slight tilt earned by resisting hurricane winds. Patient. Finite but reaching towards the sky. Oblivious of cold, of a sun turned bitter. A clutch of outstretched arms blue-black against the paler evening. If one were inclined to bundle up, slip outside, lay a bare palm against its frigid skin, what then? The rough promise of April?

Thursday, March 25, 2010


A character finds herself in a classroom. No time to prepare. A clutch of students seeking a new hobby. Dried flower arrangement. My character's stock in trade. Gritting her teeth while they wield their glue guns. Trying to make useful suggestions, and not to hurt anybody's feelings.
[The hook, where's the hook?
It's like a salamander under a rock. Exposed to light it slithers away.]
The character goes home to an empty house,pours herself a drink (or not). Let's say instead she does yoga for three hours. Shivasana, the corpse.
And the next day she wakes up, goes to work, busies herself stripping the thorns from roses.
It's just her way, a little way.
Patience, she tells me. Just keep writing. Sometimes it's like this, you have to wait for the slippery spotted squiggle of truth to slither back.
Trade light for light and dark for dark.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010


Today's scenario (a drama from real life.) Guy loses wallet on bus. Every piece of ID he owns is in it, plus bank and credit cards. A couple of coupons for free movies, a five-dollar bill. Lost.
Suddenly he is persona non grata. Fears of identity theft loom large. Bank fraud. The card maxed out. His worst concern (out of his being quite young) that some loser scumbag is passing himself off as him, flashing his ID to get into bars. The insult!
Then the cost, not to mention the rigmarole, of replacement cards.
And then, out of the blue, most unexpected, a phonecall.
A flustered trip to Metro Transit's lost-and-found: the wallet has been turned in.
Will it be plundered, gutted, a shell of empty slots? That is the question.
Restored into the proper hands, nothing short of a miracle.
Every card in its rightful place, untouched.
Even the crisp unfolded $5 exactly where it should be.
The kindness of a stranger, an honest, decent, compassionate soul!
Why are we shocked?
Shock soon spilling over into awe, then into a soft, round joy, wonder like an ammonite coming back to life.
An ancient petrified coiled creature, a gem made precious by its perfect form, a talisman, a trinket never to be worn lightly.
The reminder that goodness rules.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Writing the bones

Forget les bons mots--for now. It's about letting your characters shout/yell/rant/rave/deflect and act out. The beautiful prose comes later. The trick is being patient, for now, with their clumsy calisthenics, their flat-earth chit-chat, as they wallow around presenting themselves. Reminding oneself, always, that layers come later. Poetry, meaning. A reflection of art as life--all of it wrapped up in the bodily, the "actual"--which translates, transmits its own significance, manifests the realer than real. Like a seed allowed to grow.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

A Picture's Worth....

An image created with a click--versus words upon words. Such patience, writing. So hard to sustain in the world of instant gratification.
Like refinishing a piece of furniture, maybe--once you've got the structure there. Taking the finish down to the wood, then building it back up again. Making every word count.
The need to create an oblique beauty that must play hard to get. Must keep people guessing, but not too much.
Once again, that fine balance-- the border between telling and showing, between shouts and whispers.

Friday, March 19, 2010


So much energy must be taken up preparing. Raking and bagging the winter's detritus, stooping and scooping,
clearing the way for patches of purple.
Crocus and miniature iris and the brave tops of tulips before the deer arrive.
We all push on, laying the groundwork for a profusion of blooms,
or, for the cloven-hoofed, bellies full of bulbs.
Paths made straight, space arranged.
All in quiet, hopeful preparation.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Coffee shop hop

Five minutes is better than no minutes. Joy today scribbling away for a few spare minutes while waiting for a friend. As long as one has paper and a pen that works, all is well. Writing through the chatter, writing through people's comings and goings. Never an idle moment.
There's a certain freedom, writing in a coffee shop. Note-taking, the narrative shaping itself but no pressure...just to move the pen and let the characters quibble.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Precious, precious

Would love to say I'm gone swimming, fishing, hiking, shopping, drinking green beer, etc., but instead it's a day of unholy obligation: marking.
The good thing about this, tho, is that marking chafes (tho sometimes to the point of blisters).
But it's the grit inside the shell that makes us hanker for pearls.
The chafing the flipside of the writing life that lends urgency, the less-than-subtle nudge, however irritating, that time is precious, and measured against the mundane can produce little gleaming globes of happiness.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Time travel

Absolutely true: to get any writing done, you must pretend the Internet was never invented. Instead, your world is one of clear glass windows, rotary phones, record players, radios.
Library books divulge treasured information.
This world with its quiet, hopeful pregnant hours is small and seamlessly circumscribed. It bellies up to you. In it, humans answer phones and only kids with tree forts have passwords.
Writing days yawn and stretch; they are gently waving fir boughs, layered clouds and freshly-mown lawns.
They are peacock-blue ink scrolling from a leaky cartridge pen.
Lines, guy-wires, connecting with translucent sky.

Saturday, March 13, 2010


What places in your memory stir characters, voices?
If not for such places, our stories might have no roots.
Stones, rock walls, trees. Common edifices of the imagination:
how these grow and mutate and, sometimes, never change.
Signposts. Starting places and ending places.
The roar of a word, laughter, a scent.
The feel of something solid under the palm.

Friday, March 12, 2010

We think, therefore we are

A few months back, while prepping a fiction-writing course, I came upon a quote by another writer on writing that basically said one learns to write a novel by pretending to write a novel.
In other words, if you allow yourself to try, after a while you'll no longer simply be faking it, but actually doing it.
A gentle spin on Descartes' "I think, therefore I am," with the proviso that the best writing mixes craft and openness, the willingness to play around, pretend, jam, improvise.
The same applies to living, I'd venture to say.
As it does to goodness, the saints suggest.
Aiming for the lofty, faking it if & when you must. The practice, the constant, continual practice eventually making it real.
The habit becoming us.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Thin ice

Sirens last night. A fire truck and ambulance screaming up the road, drowning the early evening's quiet.
Kids. Three of them on skates on rotten ice. What were they thinking? Open water edges, floating ducks. Spring having sprung.
Firemen with a ladder lugged through the woods. Kids clinging to a rock. All safe--thankfully.
But it begs the question: how crazy is that?
The pond this morning groaning its melt: whale songs? a woman compared it to. The booming, echoing, loosening, cracking. Fractures.
The fractured hearts if one of those kids had been harmed. Lost.
Saved from their urge to do the supremely stupid.
But what is it that leads people to think they can skate on a spring pond anxious to swallow its surface?

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Tax time

With the onslaught of crocuses cometh the dreaded ritual of T4 torture. Not that I mind in any way paying my fair share of taxes. But it's the numbers, the math that I hate. The feeling of reckoning, adding up all those receipts that detail the quotidian, the sensible not-too-sexy underwear if you like, of the writerly life. The underwire of postage and (less so, now that agents have Kindles) photocopying. The support of editing fees. The saggy elastic of supplies: pens, paper, printer cartridges. The silky slinky satin of web design & photo fees. All measured against an anorexic income.
Thank goodness for teaching's girdle is all I can say: the proper forms, figures entered in boxes that conform to Rev Can logic.
The things that add shape to the body's wandering.

Shedding Some Ink on Carol Bruneau

Shedding Some Ink on Carol Bruneau

Monday, March 8, 2010

We are our stories...

Words make and re-make us, words fake us, words slake our thirst
to get under the skin of things.
Truth or fiction are moot points.
What counts are the constructs,
the houses we enter
built of images, ideas,
strings of thought and
if these were taken away
the silence,
imaginations gone mute,

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Time flies

Incredibly, the snow is gone and in my garden hyacinths and hellebores are up. A trick? It feels like mid-April, sun beaming through panes flecked with winter's grunge. Whassup with this? Winter's hibernation--its ideal, idyllic snow-white blank-canvas effect, the best time of all for writing in Canada--barely a blip or a glimmer this year. Blizzard fantasies, hours inside stories: the standing stillness of a story moving from opaque to transparent.
Not a complaint, hardly a lament. But a marvel--even if the rest of March snows its head off. The hard-crusted base in the backyard non-existent, only moss yelling for grass to get with the program.
May our writing be a raucous onslaught of crocuses.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Word Processing

There's something about timeliness of ideas...not that good ones necessarily dry up or go away. But when you revisit stuff written in all "seriousness" so long ago you barely recall the characters, probably it's time to start over.
Not easy, though, detaching from the wads of notes and pages and pages that sometimes do contain a worthy snippet, phrase or image.
But it's a matter of being brutal (she tells herself). Extract the image or the word with tweezers or needle-nose pliers--jewellers' pliers?--and insert as needed.
No one ever said novel-writing was easy. No one ever said it was fast.
So why the temptation to jog when you know it takes surgically-precise baby steps?

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

The Hungry Artist

An interesting review in Saturday's Globe, all about challenging fiction's conventions, and, indeed, originality itself. The piece is well worth reading:

Shields' approach appears to be the literary equivalent of sampling a la hip hop. That the way, the truth and the life of the novel lies in patching & scratching together found bits and pieces, all without accreditation. (I mean, why bother inventing and building your own distinctive characters when you can rip off whole chunks of other people's?)
Hmm. I would agree with the view that as our attention spans shrink and with it our reading habits, the way we write novels has to adapt too. To churn out a 400 page story now seems antiquated--a no-brainer that its audience will be small? But stealing? (er, borrowing?)
Some would say this is dishonest, pegging the craft of sampling as such.
Because everything we create comes on the heels of others' creations--the whole creative process one long concatenation of influences upon influences.
But doing away with characters, narrative?
Doesn't that pull the plug on story?
Isn't writing about finding form out of chaos, seeking and constructing meaning?
Isn't that the writer's job?
I'm not sure it isn't cheating--lazy--a cheapshot--for a writer to fling down a collage of found words and hope--expect--readers to make great sense of it. If in fact sense is what readers seek. Or is it breaking narrative down into the cyber bits and bytes we no longer consider virtual but real and/or just as important as the stories, the experiences behind them?
Reality, man.
But just because the new reality is sampling/splicing/skimming/skipping, should fiction necessarily image that?

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Canada GOLD!

Am seeing red with joyous jubilation. Canada rocks! We live in the best country in the world
(even if we have Nickelback and a Prime Minister who seems unable to show emotion). A band with the talent of a pickle and a leader with the charisma of an onion ring. There...nuf said in a blog not intended to be political.

Saturday, February 27, 2010


Walloped by wind yesterday, hence blogging boggled by power outage. No internet! Imagine.
In the Globe's books section today there's a sampling of writerly tips from those in the know. One of them, from Jonathan Franzen, is to sever all internet connections if you hope to write good fiction. You can check out the other suggestions at http://www.theglobeandmail.com/books/on-you-go/article1482789/
Franzen's is a lovely thought if harsh, but not very practical. More useful is Atwood's suggestion to carry not one pencil but two in your carry-on luggage when travelling. (Long-pencils?)
All of these writers fiction-eers--when fiction is supposedly tanking.

Thursday, February 25, 2010


More naysaying in today's Globe and Mail about fiction: the fact, as everyone in publishing keeps saying, that nobody reads it anymore. And at the same time, a boom in creative writing courses. Go figure. Lots of writers (ahem) ready to teach, lots of people eager to learn...and then?
Sometimes I wish I lived in Jane Austen's day...or Colette's...or Margaret Laurence's. Pre-computers, anyway, when you wrote out your drafts, or, if you were lucky, typed them. Over and over, draft by draft. Or got a close relative or friend or (ahem) secretary to type them for you. In the days of carbon paper, correcto-tape or white out. (Actually the selectric typewriter was bliss--I used to write long missives to friends on one while working graveyard shift at a news agency, once upon a time, a long long time ago).
Anyway. Everybody and their cat writes these days. The computer has made it all so much easier. But how much of it is just throwing words down, just because?
How much of it is overload, the difficulty of publishing a glutton's reward for, well, if not gluttony, then verbosity.
Maybe silence is silken, if not golden. Maybe silence is what we should aspire to at times.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Back to make believe...

Just pretend.
Easier said than done sometimes.
It means disengaging from the naysaying world. The earth that would appear to be flat.
Time, space, permission.
Such a process.
Characters that step out of dreams, open their mouths, speak.
This mysterious uber-unter world that invests ours--the flatness of snow, of pavement, of rooftops, tables--with possibility
And out of all these things slips and slides a point of view.
The living breathing presence of a protagonist acquiring flesh.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Study break

Three full days devoted to writing--in this case, an essay--and what bliss to enter that zone. That timeless present of words, phrases. Voice, figures of speech. Figuring out what you need to say, then threading the needle to stitch it. The piece itself a cushion, tastefully embroidered. A silk-tasseled, lighter-than-air cushion to cradle the reader's reading. Not to pad or embellish, but to aid in absorption. The darning of bumps and thumps, and every little tear.
The mending of emotion offered up.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Real Life

Fiction-writing is walking a trapeze. Don't look down, and you'll be okay. Just keep up the momentum, one foot in front of the other.
Switching gears to real life, reality, the nits and grits of non-fiction...and it's another story. Watching every step, observing the flex of each toe.
Wondering when what you say will bite back.
Only the impulse is the same. To jump. To let 'er rip. To dance, to shout, to sing.
To deflect the eye's attention from trembling muscles, nerves.
Never mind the why.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Paper pariahs

So what if paper were to become a banned substance? Would we become a world of skimmers, scrollers, surface-surfers? Probably.
Or maybe I'm a Luddite, hopelessly attached to texture. Print.
The real-life feel of fresh cut pages. The smell of books.
Instead of a stack, a tidy little device with multi apps, crammed to bulging with 35,000 books and not looking a bit bloated.
But not what you want to take to bed, or cuddle up to on the couch.

Friday, February 19, 2010


It would be interesting (scary) to know how many trees we've collectively killed on works that go nowhere. A totally depressing thought, but unavoidable. Pages and pages and pages, I would bet. Boxes and crates full; drawers, filing cabinets and cubbyholes stuffed with our best intentions, hopeful doodlings, plotted purgings...
By "we" I mean all writers past and present. An arboreal catastrophe of cataclysmic proportion, all that paper. So many trees, that much more global warming.
How many degrees Celsius for wanton effort?
So what if we just stopped--what if we completely quit practising on paper?
It's very hard to doodle onscreen. Harder to stuff a hard drive in a sock drawer. (And they say the stuff in cyberspace is virtually indestructible--which means the mistakes, the miscues, the misbegotten and the nakedly unwanted can keep coming back to haunt us.)
When our mistakes and misbegotten and misplaced efforts are often the stubborn if saggy box-springs for cushier moments: the times when words rest easy.
Triumph through try-and-try again failure.
Sharpen your axes, good buddies. Once the snow melts we'll plant seedlings, like the good reforesters we truly are.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010


Snow day. D'you know, every now and then when things slow down, you realize that the characters and storylines we cast into the ozone are out there for a long time. For instance, this morning when my neighbour was outside very kindly snowblowing out my driveway, he suddenly stopped the snowblower to ask:

“Does Michael survive?”

"Michael?" I said, thinking huh?

“His heart attack! You know, Michael!”

Meanwhile, I'm drawing blanks, thinking: Reality show? Like, what? "Sorry, I don’t watch a lot of TV," I probably said.

“In your story," prompted my neighbour, like I had Alzheimers. "The Tarot Reader?!!”

Ohhhhh. O-kay. But that story was published 10 years ago. And I'm supposed to remember? (Obviously the writing of it couldn’t've inflicted much pain.)

But my neighbour was insistent. He wanted to know: Did Michael survive? And I had to scramble, I did, because I really couldn’t remember. So I made up the answer. “Yes,” I said, “he did.” (Best in such situations to end on a cheery note.)

So now I figure that story must need work, if it leaves someone guessing.

Or maybe not, since writing is about raising questions, and also about letting go….

Tuesday, February 16, 2010


Who'd've thought we Canadians could be so vibrantly, outspokenly red & white & maple-leaved...all of this red cheer against the gorgeous blue & white visuals of Vancouver. People who cheered and yelled at their TV sets while watching sports used to baffle and leave me bemused. Now I'm one of them. Go, Canada!!!! There's just something about seeing excellence in action.
Something about the energy and wide-open feeling of possibility, courage and confidence.
So--how does this translate into writing?
No guts, no glory, my friends.
I'm cheering you on!

Monday, February 15, 2010

Sports fever

Imagine, spectators cheering writers on. Screaming! Hoping against hope. Gold!
There's a Monty Python skit based on such a scenario: "He's picking up his ballpoint...he's...scratching his ear....putting the tip of the pen...to the paper...." Wait for it, wait for it...."He's writing a...T....and an H....and.....and.....and an EEEEEE."
Imagine, writers zipping along, neck and neck.
Competing with their own shadows.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Living Dangerously

Valentine was a priest martyred in Rome on Feb. 14th, ca 270 AD, for performing Christian marriages. Before his execution under Emperor Claudius II, he restored the sight of his jailer's blind daughter, then wrote a farewell note to her, signed, "From your Valentine."
Let's write with love this day, in it and through it and with it.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Luge Tragedy

Heartbreaking, the death of the luger in Vancouver.
Are extreme-sports enthusiasts hard-wired to be near-suicidal?
You have to wonder. Writing being the extreme opposite--or is it? The worst that can happen, falling off your chair. Getting carpal tunnel syndrome, or a pain in the neck. Or in the arse, when things don't pan out. Scalding your mouth with too-hot coffee. Back problems, possibly. The litany of ailments linked to a sedentary lifestyle. Heart attacks, diabetes, etc etc. The list is potentially endless.
Risk. The things we put our characters up to daily. The places we send them that we would never go. Or would we? Do we?
I'm thinking of a comment, made quite a few years back, by John Irving, about novelists' entitlement to write of grief they haven't "personally" experienced. If you do your emotional homework, he inferred, yes, it is not only possible to write of other's extreme sorrows, but incumbent upon the writer to plumb them.
Extreme empathy = revelation.
Which goes above and beyond ego, I think.
Emptying of the ego. The extremity of the extreme sport of writing.

Friday, February 12, 2010

One Farch Day = progress

Solitude, discipline, putting in a solid five hours writing. Everything in alignment, self-enforced confinement. Scenes with narrative and dialogue forming on the screen. Grinning and bearing the tedious moments, fighting perfectionism Bird-by-Bird style. The hook, where's the hook? my network censor keeps yelling. Shut up so I can listen for it, I say. This is a quiet story, a quiet book. Never mind that in the first ten pages gunshots ring out. A sound like somebody driving over inflated paper bags. And already, a funeral (which may or may not be related.)
All I know is that writing is like getting dressed: you put your pants on one leg at a time.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

It's only words

Ah, finally, am at the "business end of a mullet" after days of marking. The process could kill a clown's sense of humour. A sense of humour the essential ingredient. Without it we would curl up 'n' die. Which, incidentally, is the apt name of a hairdressing salon in North Sydney. So many found lines to be picked up and filed (a lot of them, I confess, from student papers.) "Polonius hoovering behind the arras." "Like the mullet says." "The sculpture is clad in a fur suit." And my all-time fave: "Depression comes hand in hand with syphilis." I'm sure it does.
(And aren't we always telling people to SAY what they mean and be direct?)
No lies, no sugar-coating.
Say it, sister (as she/you/I avoid the novel.)

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Down but not out

How utterly dependent we are on the Net, set adrift when disconnected. Our service disrupted (inexplicably) for 24 hours, a full day and night. Eeek!! Like being marooned on a rock in the middle of an eel-infested lake--a Coke-coloured lake as lakes tend to be here. Yuck.
Kind of a slap-upside-the-head, feeling incommunicado. Only the TV for viewing the shoreline. My phone phobia, and the fact that a clear radio signal avoids our house like the plague. Who knew? We are so used to being wired. Stop the world, losing the Net makes you wanna say. Stop right now. Funny thing, tho. How being unplugged backs up time. Minutes, hours well-spent reading pages of print. One less carrot/stick to reward marking. Eliminating a host of excuses for buckling down. Alas, online again even though the essay heap diminishes. Yet I still hold out hope for writing time tomorrow. The jackrabbit shuffle, beating the clock. Oh, this ADHD culture!

Monday, February 8, 2010


"Respect the page, it's all you've got," says Margaret Atwood in Negotiating with The Dead. Also: "Where is the writer when the reader is reading?"
In the studio or at the tavern? I say to my students. The page a kind of mystical meeting place for writer and reader--so we would hope. So I say optimistically, facing a fresh stack of essays to mark.
A humbling thought tho, that pulls you up short. That makes us all vulnerable to that act of translation, transcription. What the mind sees and what the hand puts down.
The eternal struggle, yes? To make what is abstract "real."

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Find the narrative...

Jean-Pierre Gauthier's Machines are wonderful...a cacophony of found sound-making parts. See the show now at AGNS before it ends March 15th. Installation sometimes leaves me cold, but this work drags your inner kid out to play. Best of all the piece that's a janitor's nightmare, that begs you to build a narrative. A volcanically-bubbling sink, a cupboard spewing rolls of besmirched t.p., industrial-strength rubber gloves that inflate like the hands of some creature from a black lagoon.
Inspirational. Fun. A reminder that the artist can go anywhere s/he wants.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Day of rest

Trouble is, we never take vacations. Words are always with us. The storyline, to be wound in and around and through the daily obligations, joyful and otherwise, of being in this body in this world. All good, all to be grateful for. Not enough hours in the blue and white crackle of sun on snow.
A clean house, no wind, -14 degrees. Brunch to eat, art gallery to visit, dog to be walked, reading to do...
And all the while the story sits. A yarn-end to be clung to before the playful, greedy cat rips it away.
The desire, my friends, to knit a row daily before it unravels again, a messy tangle around table legs. A trail to be followed before the light goes out.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Snail's progress...

So it takes all morning to fix up two paragraphs then knit on a few more sentences. Writing is slow, you could say ponderous. Then at lunch my son says, Why not just write something trashy for the fun of it, something outrageous, just to make money? Something "controversial," was how he put it, meaning something completely out of my zone, i.e. something compellingly untrue. A la James Frey's notorious drug addicted imprisonment.
Yeah, right.
No, I said, Writing is so torturously hard that it has to be something that is true for me. Or that starts from something true for me: something meaningful, that's what I meant.
My son backing off once he realized that, by association, having a mother who made up nefarious stuff might implicate him too.
It's a small town, right?
A small continent. A small universe. Too small for telling lies to gain notoriety.
A novel much too deep and dark a space to be stuck inside a faulty web.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Poetic Persuasion

Just finished reading Nicholson Baker's The Anthologist, which I highly recommend to all who write poetry. Tis a virtually plotless novel plumbing poetry's process (more alliteration for my own amusement this hibernatory morning), that reflects heavily on rhyme and meter. A lot of ramblings about iambic pentameter a la the mathematics of music. (I have to confess I skimmed these parts.) What makes this book sing is Baker's wonderful quirkiness. His off-the-wall metaphors and linguistic leaps. His wise and funny and poignant reflections on the inward-and-outwardness of writing; how very private it is, and how, urgently and of necessity to writer and reader, how public. How its failures can be its successes. How it hollows us out and brings us to our knees. What serious business it is, never to be taken too seriously. A calling where language rules, and not our egos.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

The Pl(unge off the)edge, or, another word for furniture polish

Starting, again, after many false starts. The end of excuses. A space heater in my office, my dinosaur desktop dusted off. Bad, bad alliteration. Not a deterrent. You can fix the crap later, I'm always telling people. Following my own advice today. Finding that focus where characters speak, and soon enough say startling things--when we're willing to listen. Today's eight pages barely resembling any of the previous first eight-page fits and starts and false beginnings. Beginning, always beginning; but today I began to say "I do."
To find the story you must start somewhere. Shoveling, in this case. Laying aside the dirt to reach bedrock.
A fierce act of bravado that just says No to doubts. If you can skate over top of them, soon enough they sink away, leaving a glassy sturdiness. If you can trust it enough to get to 30 pages, or 50, or 200, eventually even the edges feel safe, at least negotiable.
Till then, though, it's sucking in your gut, pretending to weigh nothing, following your nose.
A nonchalance that's open to mixed metaphors, especially crashingly bad ones.
As simple and as hard as that, telling the network censor to take a hike.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Orchids in winter

Too cold to go outside. A spare couple of hours before class. A luxury, time. Use it, I tell my students. Five minutes is better than no minutes.
Easier preached than practised, alas.
Every excuse: not enough time to immerse myself in the scene. How to open? The right words as invisible as pollen, in short supply these frigid days. My office is too chilly. Procrastination.
The shame of it puts down roots. Stubborn roots against the waxy balm of persistence. Practice.
Slow and steady wins the race.
Take the orchid. A hothouse plant known for its fussiness. A dull dead stick of a thing all year until it flowers each February.
Ignore the groundhog; his message is meaningless.
Tomorrow, I tell myself.
But keep watering.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Dr Syn

Down-time. A throwback to childhood - circa 1964, Walt Disney. Scarecrow of Romney Marsh on DVD. Smugglers, Red Coats, press gangs, barmaids. Disney's wonderful world of color, Sunday nights. The Scarecrow's signature cackle, deliciously chilling to an entranced little kid.
A series based on a book.
Back when TV was watchable.
Newspapers and books as we know them are under threat, but what about television? A dead medium. Talk about imaginatively bankrupt, beyond moribund.
Which makes printed texts all the more appealing on cold winter nights?
The place/space where writers meet readers: that two-way street.
A relationship, a transaction more real than any reality show could hope to be.

Sunday, January 31, 2010


A frigid morning that makes you wanna cut to the chase. The rigidity of frozen pavement; banks and yards of rock-hard snow. The impatience this brings: no leisurely strolls, no meandering along the seawall. No lingering.
A certain pragmatism that says: outline.
Take the snowballs and chunks of ice, melt them down to their essence.
Water. Molecules that move.
The day's task: shoveling through pages and pages of accumulation, looking for a flow. Whatever solid, stubborn stream lies buried, and charting it.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Baby you can drive my car...

Further to traffic jams and skidding downhill.... Gotta throw in my two cents' worth about Toyotas. I love mine. Knock on wood, it has never let me down or taken me anywhere I didn't wanna go.
Yes, it's bad, very bad, the recall of 270,000 cars. Annoying, worrisome and potentially horrifying for their drivers, not to mention a blow to Toyota's reputation.
On CBC TV news the other night they were playing up the worry factor, the issue that Toyota has let its customers down when it comes to safety.
And this is true.
But I don't think people buy Toyotas thinking they're safer than other cars; they buy them because they're more reliable.
That is, you trust that the thing will start when you turn the key. You have faith that it won't die on you in the middle of nowhere.
Then there are the aesthetics.
A few days ago the Globe and Mail ran a hysterically funny list of the world's all-time worst cars. Death-trap travesties of design. The Ford Pinto, the GMC Gremlin, Pacer, Aztek, etc etc etc. Things you would not want to be caught dead in, but, let's be honest, might have driven. (I got my license in my parents' Pinto!)
Worse than clunkers, lemons, beaters. Notoriously dumb, hideous, embarrassing.
But there it is: sometimes things fail, ideas nose-dive.
You have to get past it.
Everything's a leap of faith--whether lifting the pen or puttin' the pedal to the metal.
Today let your designs be gorgeous. Foolproof. Reliable.
Let them be timeless and fuel-efficient and their suspension give you an elegant, happy ride.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Snow day

A perfect day for reading, gathering info, letting something simmer and stew. Snow moving like flies in the air, then showering off trees. Landscape reduced to the grey scale. The solitude of the kitchen table. The wind grumbling.
A traffic jam of ideas trying not to skid downhill.
Snow up to the axles.
Such hard wading.
Another form of working out.

Thursday, January 28, 2010


Time flies when I'm marking...the temptation of a story chafing. A rough little seed in the folds of the brain. Just waiting for the last essay to be raked over, commented on, graded. The double life of a writer: what we do in the temporal world, and what goes on in the head. A bun in the oven that wants to bust outta the pan. The story behind the story of a certain painting what presently grips me. Curiosity. The more holes in the real story, the better. Note to head: some Googling, some scholarly searching just to explore the ground. Could be there's no room for the seed to sprout. But something to investigate. It's the wanting to know, the need to know more, that fuels writing, that keeps me smiling. The reward after the marks are filed. The deep grin of a secret.
If La Joconde could talk, right?

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Hope springs eternal

Today, in the midst of marking, a break to take in an uncanny blast of spring. A tease, but still. Sunshine, melting snow. A reminder, nevertheless, that things thaw, move, flow. Even when the world appears frozen. The flat-earth of mid-winter. But the memory of warmth, of buds popping; a tiny flame of expectation, optimism.
The example, the inspiration, passed on to me yesterday, that Paul Quarrington wrote right up until his death, finished his memoirs just in time. Such fierce devotion to the craft, to the purpose behind it. A humbling in the midst of my grumbling. To die with a pencil or a brush or a lump of clay or a weaver's shuttle in hand--to die as you live, my brilliant friends, exercising the hope that comes of having a gift.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010


Ideas are flies...or birds that visit the yard but once a year. In flocks or singly, sharp against snow. A flare of colour in bare branches. A visitation. Note to head to scribble down bones. Then life intrudes. The grocery list, chores. To do or not to do. And hours later, when the day settles...what was that lightning flash? That tiny feathered thing that flitted, never touching down? The tiny beating heart of a story. The gizzard of an essay. A throat pulsing with song--swallowed. The ghost of a thought scratching the mind's lens. Focus, focus. Too late. Gone.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Rain rain go away

Drizzle. A bag-full of essays to mark. The flipside of the writing life, the activities we do to fund our writing habit.
But sometimes teaching makes a good buffer between the writer and the neuroses of writing. The trouble is, like writing and mothering, it can be an endlessly thirsty sponge. The only limits on your efforts are those you place yourself.
Is it harder for women teachers and writers who let their motherly urge to give and give some more dominate?
The hardest thing is being unable to see the fruits of our labours. At least not any time soon.
The long haul, the hanging-in. Persevering.
Being able to look at drizzle the Maritime way: Hey, at least it's not snow.
And the essays are short.
And while I'm digging myself out of the marking pit, a brilliant idea will rise out of the murk. Turn drizzle to dew.
At least, let's hope.